By Ryan Dunn
Cost implies value. Aren’t things that cost us us something worth more to us than things that cost us nothing? We especially love the things we earn. We value them more.
Remember the first thing you bought with your own earned money? I remember my reluctance to give up my first boom box. I had bought it in my tweens years (I don’t remember the exact age). After many years, it hardly worked and sounded about as good as a tin can tied to a string. But I was loathe to let it go because I spent a summer mowing lawns across my neighborhood so I could buy it all by myself.
I paid for that thing. So it was valuable – so valuable that it sat in an attic until I was in my 30’s.
The past two Decembers, I have been on a tour called the True Meaning of Christmas Tour. Our goal is to pull people together during the holiday season and invite them into community. We do this by taking a Christmas-bedazzled food truck from place to place and invite congregations in those communities to join us in handing out free hot cocoa.
It’s a big effort. There are a lot of logistics poured into a tour. There are connections that the marketing and relationship teams have to make with local leaders. Our PR team has to send out press releases and drum up media coverage. The communications team has to communicate that this thing is going on. People have to go out on the road in December. There’s coordination to be done in organizing volunteers and locations and web announcements… and so much more. And all to do what? Give out free cocoa, right?
The first free cocoa event I did pre-dates my time on the Tour. My good buddy Jeremy is the United Methodist campus pastor at East Carolina University. To support him I joined him on campus handing out free cocoa during finals. He had this crazy idea that it would be cool to counter-act the other campus “ministers” who fired off fire-and-brimstone through bullhorns. Instead, we could just give out something nice to everyone, as opposed to arbritrary vitriol. When people asked him if the cocoa was really free, he always said “God’s grace is a free gift and so is this cocoa.” That sounds cheesy when I say it. But it is totally disruptive when someone says it to you… as you are receiving a free gift of cocoa.
Offered like that, the cup becomes something pretty valuable, because it represents something more.
On the tour, as our volunteers stood around in freezing temperatures, smiling and handing out cocoa, they often were asked, “is it really free?”
Our culture is a skeptical. Especially because if we’re out there doing what we were doing than it must be for something valuable in return, right? Could something “free” be that valuable? We couldn’t possibly be standing out there in the cold in order to just give them something. We had to be demanding something, too. Right?
So a lot of people tried avoiding us. They’re pace quickened as they came by us. They looked down, as if they didn’t notice the bedazzled truck.
Some people did hang around. One man hung around for a while asking questions. As we talked he asked, “Are you telling people about the Gospel?”
“Yeah, of course, we’re showing the Gospel,” I replied.
They say in writing, the best practice isn’t to tell people conditions, it’s to show people conditions. We were writing a Gospel description. “God’s grace is free, and so is this cup of cocoa.”
Each cup becomes representative of what Paul wrote about in Ephesians 2. He noted that God reaches out to us even though we are "dead through trespasses." We are not reaching to God (we're dead), God is reaching to us. This is God's grace. And God's grace comes to us not as a result of our own works or efforts, but because because of God's love.
I assume that most of our volunteers understand these verses on some level. It’s why they’re showing up. They want to share this good news that God is freely handing out love… not according to what we’ve done, but according to God’s love.
The grace they are presenting becomes meaningful not because they’re out there freezing their fingers off earning it, but because they’re out there smiling and participating in it. And maybe that sounds like a bit of a cost for experiencing grace. But the crazy thing is that as you’re doing it, it becomes joy. The cost of God’s grace is participating in it. But when we participate in God’s grace, it becomes our joy.
If you are wanting to learn more about the presence of God's grace, we invite to check out our podcast: Compass. Each episode is a dive into identifying God's presence in our day-to-day.
Ryan Dunn is the author. He lives in Nashville, TN, where he serves as a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. Christmas is his favorite holiday.